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Summary: #3 in Christmas series on fear. What was Joseph afraid of? How things looked.

Matthew 1:18-25 – Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Today we are continuing our series on fear. Four times in the Christmas story, someone is told not to be afraid. Today we are looking at the story of Joseph from Matthew 1:18-25.

Now, there is a lot said about Mary, the topic of last week’s message. There isn’t so much on Joseph, though. But that’s too bad, because he was a good man put into a difficult situation.

He was engaged to Mary. An engagement was a binding commitment, which could only be broken by divorce. They would soon be married, but they were not married yet.

So a real problem for Joseph arose when Mary came to him and told him that she was going to have a baby. Well, Joseph knew that the baby was not his. Of course Mary told him that she had not been unfaithful. Of course she told him that an angel came to visit her and told her that she would have a baby by supernatural means. Of course Mary told Joseph that the baby inside her was not from another man, but from the Holy Spirit. She was carrying the Messiah inside her womb.

I have no doubt about these, and I have no doubt what Joseph thought at that moment. “Yeah, sure. Sure you’re carrying the Messiah. Sure you are a one-in-a-million miracle mommy.” I mean, what would he think? What would you think if someone told you she was pregnant, and it was God’s?

Now, the problem here is that Joseph had a dilemma on his hands. Let me read a couple of OT verses to you. Deuteronomy 22:22 – “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”

And then there’s the verse right before this one, describing a man who turns against his new wife because he believes that she has been unfaithful before marriage – “If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.”

So here were Joseph’s options upon finding out that Mary was pregnant, and the baby wasn’t his. 1) He could confess that he was not the father. Then, Mary would be condemned as an adulteress. 2) He could lie and claim to be the father. Then, the reputations of everybody involved would be tarnished, and the qualifications of Jesus as Messiah would be null and void.

This was Joseph’s problem. He did not know what to do. He did not want to lose Mary, but he also knew what he was supposed to do in that situation. He felt that his hands were tied. He felt, likely, as we all do sometimes, that whatever we do will be the wrong decision. If we do nothing, that will be wrong. But what our options are don’t seem any better, either. Whatever choice we make, whatever decision we lean towards, whatever step we take – it will be the wrong one.

I think this is the real reason that the angel told him not to be afraid. He was afraid of how things looked, because things looked pretty grim. There are times in our own lives, as well, when things look pretty bleak. There are times that we feel we don’t really have any good choices to choose from. There are times when we feel like giving in, when we want to just throw up our hands in defeat.

There are times when, like Joseph, the right decision looks so bad. Joseph was a righteous man. That means that he wanted to follow the OT law of justice. But he was also filled with love for Mary, and after all – love is part of what righteousness is all about. So his sense of justice and his sense of mercy were facing off against each other.

We get that way. We want to love that person. We want to forgive them for all they’ve ever done to us. We want to show compassion and mercy and give them another chance. But then there’s that feeling of, “But if we let them get away with this, what else will they do?” I wonder if Joseph thought that maybe Mary would again be unfaithful to him. I wonder if he was afraid that by forgiving Mary for the 1st offense, she would take advantage of that and be unfaithful later.

That, of course, is the scandal of grace. By not making people pay for their sins and by giving forgiveness so freely, people sometimes tend to take advantage of the generosity and keep doing what they were doing. That’s the problem of grace, but that’s still how God does it.

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